UConn coach Geno Auriemma has not entirely read the “White Paper’’ that founding WNBA president and former USA Basketball president Val Ackerman put together and was ultimately delivered to NCAA Executive Vice President of Championships and Alliances Mark Lewis and NCAA Vice President of Women’s Basketball Championship Anucha Browne. It was filled with ideas that could potentially better the game.
The portion that Auriemma has read, however, left him with much to say. But, as he put it today, prior to teeing off in the Travelers Celebrity Pro-Am at TPC River Highlands, the time for talking about change has passed. It’s time for action.
“I read a little bit about it,’’ Auriemma said. “I talked to Val a little bit. So I haven’t read all of it, but I’m sure there’s things in there that have been mentioned before or things that have been talked about before and one of the problems that we have in women’s basketball is too many people have an opinion about what to do. So nothing gets done. And then we want to poll all 365 Division I schools and then all the Division II schools and all the Division III schools to see what we should do. So nothing gets done. So until a group of people that have the best interest of the game get together and say, `this what we’re going to do’ then we’re just always going to be writing `white papers’ and making suggestions and have meetings and have another committee and have another focus group and we’re going to be exactly where we are.
“Look how look long it took to get the 10-second rule? So 20 years from now maybe what’s in the `white paper’ will get acted upon. Unless people are willing to say, `OK, this is not maybe in my best interest, but it’s in the best interest of the game.’ So if we could ever get to that point then I think a lot of what’s in that report, from what I’m told, are things that could actually benefit the game. Things that we as coaches have talked about.’’
Here are Auriemma’s thoughts on possibly reformatting the NCAA tournament …
“I think Val … the one thing is maybe all 64 teams shouldn’t play in the NCAA tournament as it’s structured right now,’’ Auriemma said. “Everybody made a big deal in the women’s tournament about we have to be just like the men. And then at the same time they say, `Well, don’t compare us to the men.’ And at the same time they say, `Well, we’re just like men’s basketball.’ Well, make up your mind. This isn’t men’s basketball. This is women’s basketball. And they play on neutral sites because they get a billion dollars from television and we don’t. They don’t sell-out their sites either. So it doesn’t help us to be just like them. What helps us is what makes our game better. So we need to figure out what that is. So if it’s 32 teams get a bye and then the other 32 have to play their way in, it’s still the NCAA tournament. In baseball, you have regionals, you have super regionals and then everybody goes to Omaha. You know what? It works pretty well for them. And softball does it their way. And I think it’s time that we stop trying to be like everybody else or like men’s basketball and just do what’s in our best interest.
“One of the things we’ve suggested is having the regionals at five different sites and that’s it. (DePaul coach) Doug Bruno and I have talked about this a lot. Do it kind of like the BCS Championship Series. You pick five cities. And that year four of them host the regionals and one hosts the Final Four. And the following year four host the regionals and one hosts the Final Four. And you go to the five cities that do the best job and you give it to them and say, `OK, it’s yours until you prove you can’t have it.’ Instead, it’s let’s bid on it. Let’s give it to this guy, that guy, that guy, that guy and then at the end of 10 years we’re no further along than we were before. The people in baseball have created an unbelievable scenario out in Omaha. And the people in softball have created a fabulous scenario in Oklahoma City. We’re the only ones that try to follow the men around and they’re getting 80,000 and we’re getting 20,000 and we’re pretending to be like them. We’re not. It’s about time I think that we look out for our best interests … What the rules should be, what the style of play should be and how the game should look. And I think looking at it is one thing, talking about it is another thing. But I think acting on it is what’s important.’’
Auriemma was adamant that the Final Four should move from the Sunday/Tuesday format to a Friday/Sunday format.
“I definitely think the Final Four should be Friday/Sunday,’’ Auriemma said. “And it shouldn’t be at the same place where the guys have theirs. It makes no sense whatsoever, in my mind. But it definitely should be Friday/Sunday. That Sunday/Tuesday thing might work for TV and it worked for a little while, but you find attendance isn’t working because people don’t want to take that much time off from work. It’s unnatural. You can’t do that. So I agree 100 percent that Friday/Sunday works the best. Would it help attendance? In baseball, you have regionals and super regionals. And I’ve not heard one baseball coach complaining about having to play at a place where the higher-seeded team is home. Not one. You get rewarded for a great regular season. And then people say, `Well, how does that game grow? How do you grow the game?’ Well, does it really grow the game if you’re a third seed and you’re playing at a 10 seed? Does that really grow the game? I think there’s things that definitely make sense and there’s some that don’t. But at least the discussion has started.
“When I said let’s lower the rims everybody had a heart attack about it. The only reason I said it was let’s get people talking about what makes the game better. Let’s just get the people talking about what the game needs to be better. And let’s stop having people say, `The game’s great. The game’s great. The game’s fabulous. We play on the ground. It’s great. There’s no dunking. It’s pure.’ Really? What’s so pure about every team shooting 38 percent from the floor? That’s pure? That’s pure misery if you’re in the stands. Seriously. You want to see games where people are successful. If you came out to the PGA Tour and everybody shot 85, you think you’d keep coming out here? If a guy made three out of every 10th five-footer, you think people would still come out here? We’re supposed to be really good basketball players. So if we can’t do things better than the average person sitting there watching on television or watching in the stands, why would we ask them to come and pay money to watch us play? So the game’s got to get better. The players have to get better. Coaching has to get better. It’s a comprehensive thing. It’s not one thing. But for people to sit around and go, `Our game’s great.’ Well, nothing’s great. If I go to work every day with my staff saying, `You know what? We’re not good enough,’ and we just won our eighth national championship then nobody’s good enough. We’re trying to get better so everybody else should be trying to get better. These are opinions that a lot of coaches have, but right now it’s a lot of talk but very little action. And maybe this will be a wake-up call for everybody. At the end of the day we have something that could be really, really good. We have a game that’s I think fun to watch when it’s played right. We have a game that can attract a certain audience when it’s played right. And we need to nurture it, we need to grow it, we need to take care of it and help it be as good as it can be.’’